I’ve been thinking about blogging on my life and experiences for a little while now. And so, here’s the first one: on the 5 things that shaped my life. Whilst there are many many incidents that have impacted me, many people who have touched my life,, enough people who have scared the shit out of me and enough challenges that have made me feel raw and exposed, there are – I believe – some things that changed the course of my life forever. These are those 5 things, and not in any particular order.
1. Getting Gorgeous
I was on a reality TV show once, a “super model hunt” to be precise. It was the first season of Get Gorgeous on Channel V. This happened at a time when I hadn’t ever worn swimwear, hadn’t ever worn a party dress or a pair of party shoes.
I come from a middle class conservative Hindu family which would have loved to see me become an English lecturer by the age of 30 alongside becoming a wife and a mother: a woman who would wear respectable salwar kameezes or sarees, and have lengthy gorgeous hair. Auditioning for a supermodel hunt and wearing short skirts was unthinkable and dishonourable. But it happened, and it happened by mistake. (More on this in another blog post.)
So, after 6 years of working in slums (thanks to early career choices such as social work and social research), here I was at Park Hyatt in Goa, in luxury cottages with some of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. Being on Get Gorgeous felt like a mistake. I was out of place, and it came as no surprise that I was the second girl to be eliminated in the first round of eliminations.
But Get Gorgeous changed my life. It exposed me to something so unfamiliar. And although I was very shy of it at first, I realized once the show aired that people in the fashion industry now knew me. Friends now thought I should model. At 24, to consider modeling for the first time ever, when you are slightly over-sized and going through a bad divorce, isn’t a very convenient situation. Nevertheless, curiosity and the lack of other projects on hand got the better of me and I tried it for a bit. Today, if I look good anchoring a show or at a public event: it’s thanks to the styling and make up skills I learnt at Get Gorgeous and from stylists I’ve been exposed to thereafter. Would I like to model now alongside everything else I do? Hell yes! I’m ready.
In the picture: me in a shot from my very first shoot after I lost enough weight to look this way. A photograph by Sharad Haksar.
Parents are possibly the single most influential people in any person’s life. Mine were both very gifted and blessed (look at how I turned out!), and, very lost.
My parents haven’t spoken to each other since I was 13 and they still live under the same roof. They are extremely embarrassed about this cold-war situation that has existed – day in and day out – for many many years, but they still won’t do anything about it and the reason being the two ‘daughters’ they will one day have to ‘marry off’ into ‘good’ families.
As a result of their sour relationship and I believe I bore the brunt of my mother’s hatred towards my father and the stress of running a household on her own (financially too, not just physically and emotionally). As a child I also felt constantly compared by my mother: I – the one who asked too many questions and didn’t do well in physics, chemistry, geography, maths, zoology, just about managed in history and only did well in English and arts – versus my sister who rocked in all of the mainstream subjects except for in English and arts (not so important subjects in comparison – in that day and age in a social-standards driven middle class Indian family). Whilst I do not know for sure how much of a trouble maker I was as a kid, I can tell you I asked a lot of questions and spent considerable amounts of energy outside my home seeking the acceptance that I felt I lacked at home. It did not help being told by my mother that I was the cold and the didn’t-care types like my father was, and my seeking of acceptance in a variety of external sources made matters worse.
So, how did this shape me? How about if I told you that my seeking of the acceptance that I felt I lacked at home led me to attempting Christianity, into a marriage that failed, into choices that weren’t right for me and into a decade of recovery from the reaction that I had to my largely dysfunctional home? Yes, that’s what happened. And eventually after therapy and a stint outside of India: far away from the confusing chain of reactions and stressful circumstances, I made peace. I’ve started all over again emotionally.
I’ve made them, I’ve lost them and I’ve made new ones all over again. Today, they are the cement that hold my emotional home together. It’s not that they are like me or have similar life experiences: they are just great people who will stick around and speak the truth. They mean well and they get me as I am today.
In the picture: friends at one ‘Chai with Lakshmi’ brand design brainstorming session at Costa.
It’s awesome to have people who have faith in you when you have doubts. We all have our doubts. We all have our moments of pride too. And I am really thankful that I have good friends to share these with.
I am also glad that, today, my mother is a friend. Yes, I talk to her on the phone almost every day when she’s not visiting and staying with me in my home. I look out for her and she tells me to look after myself. We’ve been there for each other more and more. She’s today a proud mother and a friend who learns from me and shares with me openly. Last year, 14 years after I ran away from home, she came to stay with me and recover from illness. This gave us the opportunity to make peace and understand each other all over again. And as for my sister and me, who used to fight like cats and dogs when we were growing up, we are the best of friends that sisters can have.
Whilst on the topic of friends, I must share that a few months into starting up Red Bangle (the firm that owns Chai with Lakshmi and is a production house), there came a time when the investment that was supposed to come in did not, and I was ready to quit. One good friend of mine just put her foot down and said: ‘You are gonna do this. You are gonna make it. There is going to be no looking back’ (or to that effect). The way she said it showed the faith she had in my capacity or in the dream I’d been sharing so frequently with her about. If you are reading this today on this website, you know why.
In the pictures: Mum and me, Sis and me.
Yes, I had a very troublesome divorce I fought for, for 3 years in court; a divorce case that was witness to extreme drama, death, injury, distraught, depression, deceit, desperation and more, made me grow older in my head way too fast (as if the impact of my parents’ bad marriage didn’t already have me thinking beyond my years).
It did take me a little while afterwards to realize the impact my failed marriage and the difficult divorce had on me. I think I can say that I have recovered from that. And I have now seen enough fantastic marriages of friends up close to have renewed faith in the institution and want an affectionate marriage of my own.
I believe that the number of inspiring people that I have met in the last 20 months is more than I had met in the sum total of years before. I absolutely love what I do and I am extremely grateful for the positivity that this show has brought into my life. And I hope this show brings a lot of positivity into many many lives.
Chai with Lakshmi has also helped me reconnect with my creative side: the paintings I did when I was a child are today the videos I make, and the poetry I wrote as a teenager are the copy and blog posts that I now create. This show has helped me discover what I could very happily do for a long long time to come. It makes me want to learn more every single day. This is a turning point in my life and career.
In the picture: me in a picture from a Chai with Lakshmi shoot.
So, there you have it: the 5 things that shaped my life. They broke me and they made me. I hope I’ve shared enough of the positives whilst sharing about the challenges, because today life is beautiful. I am not the broken parts, I am the new. I am fragile yet strong. I am curious, yet sensitive. I dream big and in beautiful colours. I hope you do too.